Great Canadian Tour 2015: Toronto

In some ways, our trip to Toronto this summer was the start of our real vacation. Ottawa was a holiday, but it didn’t feel out of the ordinary. So when we got the chance to spend a few days in Toronto, followed by a few days in Washington, D.C., we figured we should try to do as many touristy things we could.

We set off on an early train ride and arrived in time for a nice Mexican lunch with my sister. We had tickets for a Blue Jays game later that night, so after lunch we stopped in at my friend’s house to drop off our stuff and headed out to meet her at the ballpark. The game was a lot of fun, and it was the start of the Jays’ winning streak (which just culminated in getting to playoffs this week). The kids were pretty tired and whiny by the end, which put a damper on the last half of the game. But we did manage to enjoy some incredibly overpriced stadium beer, pizza and popcorn.

A dude in our row got picked to do one of those commercial break contests, where he had to tie a tie faster than another contestant. So this guy spent a good 20 minutes practicing, getting other people in the stands to show him how, since he quite honestly looked like he had never tied one before. It was painful. But somehow that was enough practice, and he won – and all of us in his row got gift certificates to Tip Top. Cool.

We spent the next day at the Royal Ontario Museum, where there was an overpriced Pompeii exhibit going on. It was very dramatic, with real casts of the bodies on display. Also cool. We wandered around a bit, and the kids had fun pretending to be archaeologists, and I took giggled at all of the Roman penis decorations, because I have the sense of humor of a 10-year-old at heart.

The next day B took the kids to the Hockey Hall of Fame, since I was busy with some work things. Once again, I have trimmed down his hundreds of close-ups of jerseys to just these few artsy shots (you’re welcome):

And just to hammer home the idea that we like museums, we spent our last day visiting the Ontario Science Centre. Really we just went for the Mythbusters exhibit, because we seriously, seriously love Mythbusters. It was cool – we recognized all the machines and props on display, and they had a few try-it-yourself myths, like driving blind, flicking a playing card into a cork board, dodging a bullet and pulling a tablecloth off the table. We also sat through a presentation involving audience members getting hit by paintballs and a very much over-the-top pair of presenters, like, trying way too hard to be enthusiastic. It was cringey.

Of course we ended that outing with a huge temper tantrum on the lawn outside, because we’re classy like that. Then LittleB stepped out in front of the moving bus we were about to get on (because he doesn’t understand how North American traffic works, like, the fact that there is a separate place for people and one for cars, you know, the road) and we were all scolded for a while by the bus driver in front of the bus packed full of passengers. It’s going to take a few years for that shame to ebb from our memories… Ah, family vacations.

At least we had a great couple of evenings with good friends, and some playtime with the cousins, which is really the whole point of vacations. And we celebrated our friend’s 53rd birthday together (J put the candles on…). And the next day, we flew off to (very) sunny D.C. for a few days.

 

Great Canadian Tour 2015: Ottawa museums galore

One of the best things about Ottawa is all the museums. There are so many that, growing up there, it’s commonplace, almost boring, to go to a museum. But lucky for us, fresh off 3 years of no museum visiting in Indonesia, the kids still think it’s pretty cool! It’s not so cool for the pocketbook, but hey, we’re on vacation, right?

The first museum we decided to visit was the Air and Space Museum. The kids were keen, but I’ll admit that I also pushed for it because it was the one I have visited the least often myself, so it was still a fresh experience. And, of course, who doesn’t want to look at awesome old planes and rockets? And maybe there was a chance that Chris Hadfield would be there, right? (He wasn’t.)

We saw everything from old-timey flying (and hilariously non-flying) contraptions to slick air force jets, a huge bomber, rescue helicopters, courier planes, cushy 50s passenger planes. And the space section was lots of fun, with some hands-on activities and neat artifacts from Canadian space missions.

But, really, I think we had the most fun taking photos of the kids in the photo board cutouts. These things are classic:

We also visited the Canadian Museum of Civilization History. We are well aware that our museum timing is limited to only a couple of hours, so we have to triage. B and I can never get enough of the First Nations hall and the Inuit art in the basement (which is always shamefully undervisited), and we made a point of visiting the special exhibits rather than the permanent ones, keeping in mind our triage decisions. The exhibit on Greece was very cool, and I was able to crack into the depths of my undergraduate brain and read a lot of the ancient Greek writing. B was uber keen on the “Confederation” exhibit, which was a bit tedious for the rest of us non-politicos until we found a table where you could wear a top hat and pretend to be one of the fathers of confederation! And we also saw a Terry Fox exhibit, which was timed for the 35th anniversary of his run. It was great to share this important Canadiana with the kids, even if B did spend most of the time just photographing close-ups of all the hockey jerseys in the room.

And of course there’s a great Children’s museum that we needed to visit. We also decided to watch an IMAX movie about Lemurs. Lemurs are cool, but for some reason this film was a bit too over the top, and felt like it had been made 10 years ago, despite being recent and narrated by Morgan Freeman. It was missing some kind of legitimate messaging, like “lemurs are good, deforestation is bad” is pretty trite, even when you’re targeting a young audience… But we had a good time over all. We even ran into the kids’ cousins who were at the museum with a summer camp trip, so that was a nice surprise.

The final museum on the list was the Billings Estate Museum, which is a manor right in the heart of the city, the home of the original settlers of the area. In fact, I didn’t visit for the museum itself, but for afternoon tea. My mom and I escaped for the day and spent a lovely few hours enjoying tea and snacks overlooking a beautiful outdoor garden. Probably my favourite kind of museum trip!

 

Great Canadian Tour 2015: Ottawa fams & jams

Whenever we head home to Ottawa, our main vacation goal is to see all the family. And visiting in the summer means hot days and sticky nights, farm-fresh strawberries and corn, barbecues every weekend, backyard sprinklers and downtown festivals. Unfortunately, it also means a lot of family & friends are away on vacation. So we never get to see all the people we hope to see. This summer was no exception. I think we managed to see maybe 6 friends in total? Sorry, everyone else! But you can always *cough cough* come to Switzerland *cough cough*.

We still had a glorious few weeks enjoying the summery summertime in Ottawa. It’s the season when everything is bright and awake, with the sun suspended high in the sky for 18+ a day, and everyone spends their evenings on the patio with a drink in hand to soak up as much of the sunset as possible.

B and the kids arrived a few weeks before I did and got to enjoy the first strawberry picking of the year, visit some kid play zones and splash on the beach. It was a great chance for them to catch up with Grandma L, who left shortly after to spend the summer on the east coast.

Once I arrived, we tried to fill our time with some more ‘touristy’ activities, since we were on our own most days while our parents or friends were working or otherwise busy. B and I managed to catch a show at the Ottawa Bluesfest – Dropkick Murphys and The Tragically Hip. It was great music… but we were totally, absolutely 100% rained out. I have never been so cold and soaked in my life. I think my body actually forced a reset at one point during the concert, because I fell asleep standing up for like 2 songs and didn’t realize it. But it was worth it!

B also took the opportunity to enjoy a football game at the new Ottawa stadium. He took about 400 pictures and short video clips, which I narrowed down to just two. You’re welcome.

One of my favorite things about Ottawa in the summer are the downtown festivals. One weekend, it was RibFest, which is exactly what it sounds: a bunch of rib stands selling copious amounts of ribs. We had a great time stuffing ourselves, and the kids discovered their love of grilled meat…

But visiting is always bittersweet. All we’re left with are a few photos with the family, trying to keep our memories fresh while we wait for the next time we can see each other. But still, it is always worth it!

 

Great Canadian Tour 2015: The great outdoors

And so begins a series of posts about our summer holidays. I still have a few more Asian trips to share, but I’ll dig them out of the archives when winter hangs thick and we all need a bit of jungle and beach scenery.

Our summer was loooooong. We were basically living as transients across Ottawa, Toronto, Washington and Montreal until our Swiss visas could get sorted out. This involved a lot of moving suitcases back and forth across cities, sleeping wherever we could, and pissing off neighbors all over the country with our travel-weary kids.

We started off in Ottawa, our home base for the summer, and the first thing we couldn’t wait to do was go camping. We love camping. We love it so much that we filled our parents’ basements with all our gear when we moved rather than sell it or give it away. So it’s our duty to use it when we come back to town, right?

We booked a short trip, only 3 nights, at Silent Lake near Algonquin Park. Now, I hesitate to tell the internet about this, but it was amazing. It wasn’t too full, the sites were clean and perfect, the beaches were rugged but groomed and uncrowded, the weather gorgeous, and the night skies starry and clear. But please don’t go there, so it can stay that way.

We passed the days with swimming, outdoor games, roasting marshmallows, napping, roasting more marshmallows, watching the fire and listening to the sounds of the forest. We went on a hike one day and went a bit mushroom-crazy with our macro lens.

The kids had a good time. Mostly they just dug holes – like, they dug holes in the ground at our campsite, at the beach, in the lake bottom, in the gravel near the outhouses. What’s with kids and holes, seriously? I picked sand out of their hair for weeks afterwards. And they alternated the hole-digging with whining about eating marshmallows (when they weren’t actually eating marshmallows).

And then there were the 10 minutes when we lost LittleB in the forest while we were hiking. Oh man, other parents, you know that horrible feeling when you’ve lost your kid somewhere scary and dangerous? Yeah.

We were on our way back to the car park, and he got ahead of us, but I wasn’t worried because it is a one-way track… but then I got to the car with J and he wasn’t there. I looked around the area, checked the beach, checked the parking lot, and started to freak out. I ran back into the forest to BigB (who was still photographing mushrooms) and we split up, calling his name and looking around.

After 5 minutes of escalating frenzy, LittleB suddenly showed up at the trailhead, in tears but totally fine. It turns out he was smarter than us and actually got into the car, but I didn’t know it was unlocked so I never looked directly inside when I was in the lot, because why would he be in the locked car? Eventually he freaked out because we hadn’t come out of the forest and came looking for us. So… actually I guess we got lost rather than him.

But it really was a great trip. There’s nothing I like more than a toasty campfire, watching the flames lick the logs down into glowing coals and ashes. I like sitting up late, playing cards by torchlight, making early morning pancakes on the portable stove, snuggling into the sleeping bag when there’s a touch of dew in the night air. And I’m always heavy in the heart to pack up and go home.